When I arrived in Thailand in 1993 it did not know much about Rotary, but this was about to rapidly change, because my - now wife, then pen pal, introduced me to her club, the Rotary Club of Phyathai / Bangkok. On my first evening at the club I got a very warm welcome from all the members and the even asked me to give a speech introducing myself. What a challenge, being new to a foreign country, standing in front of a crowd made up of successful business men and women and well known politicians. But overcoming the challenge of public speaking was the speciality of another club my wife introduced me to only days later, the Laem Thong Toastmaster Club, but that is a different story... back to Rotary now !

So who is Rotary and what are Rotarians doing, I asked myself. From the days back in Germany I knew, that they don't allow women, they meet once a week to have lunch or dinner and to be a member one has to be rich ! Well, the people from the Phyathai Club proved me wrong. They had quite a few female members, they all were business men and women, but not necessarily super rich and yes they had dinner together once a week, but .. they had many projects to help the less fortunate and this is the essential rule every Rotary club must follow. The four avenues of service draft the details. There is club service which obviously takes care the needs of the club, the community service takes care projects in the vicinity of the location where the club meets (this is what makes it important that clubs meet in different areas of a city).The vocational service is responsible for educational projects and last but not least the international service which regulates how the Rotary clubs worldwide work together on projects, be it relief projects after natural disasters or educational projects like the Rotary Youth Exchange where children who would otherwise never be able to afford a stay in another country are sent abroad for one year. Rotarians in the guest country provide housing and food for the young people. Usually the children change guest families every four month, but they go to the same school all the time.

Rotary clubs do not care about publicity that is why almost nobody from outside knows about the work they are doing, did you for example know that Rotary played an essential role in eradicating polio ? Yes, it is true, Rotary sponsored most of the vaccine which was necessary during the many years the fight against polio took !

A word about sponsoring. The Rotary bylaws state, that the money for charity should not be taken from the pockets of the members, but rather should come from fund raising events in which all the clubs participate. A very famous one is the summer festival of the Rotary club Bangkok South at the Montien Hotel, which draws many hundred visitors every year, giving money for the good cause.

I found it very rewarding to be a member of Rotary, I even have founded a new club, the Rotary Club of Bangkok Srinakarin, to get more people involved. Amongst the many Activities I have had the honour to join some are sticking out. I remember very well the day, when our club installed a water treatment system in a school which is located right in the middle of those huge rubbish piles at the city limit of Bangkok. Nobody in the civilised world can imagine that children have to drink polluted water coming from a well underneath those rubbish piles. In another project we have provided pencils, paper and anything else pupils need. Imagine, people so poor, that they can't afford clean drinking water, nor the most basic writing utensils for their children ! Luckily one of our members - Rolf Dieter Daniel - who runs Staedtler Thailand, which happens to be one of the biggest manufacturers of writing instruments worldwide, and he supplied all the pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners and paper at no cost - wonderful !

Sometimes I wish that the children living in our part of the world and to whom nothing is more important than having the latest designer jeans, the latest Play Station and their own computer, would have to change - just for one day - their life with the life of those poor slum children in Bangkok. It really moved me, when I saw their big brown eyes looking at us "long noses" in disbelief. They actually got something so precious like a new, long pencil and a sharpener, white paper to write on, and the "long noses" did not only give one set to each of them but also deposited half a truck load of writing utensils with their teacher.

At another occasion the club participated in a polio vaccination effort. I case you don't know it, polio vaccination is very easy, just put a few drops of the vaccine into the mouth of the patient, that's it .. no needles involved. I remember that day we set out very early with our private cars on which we stuck the red cross. At a local Hospital where, by the way one doctor is responsible for many thousand people, we got a quick introduction into the above mentioned vaccination process. Then every team grabbed a carton of vaccine and ice, to keep the vaccine cool, which is extremely important when outside temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius ! Then we drove to as many schools, kindergartens and communities we could reach and gave vaccination to the children. We gave the vaccine to children walking alongside the road, even though we didn't know whether they may have been vaccinated before by another team, but the doctor assured us, that this would do no harm to the children - better twice than never.

I often think back to those little ones and their "godfathers", the members of the Rotary Club of Bangkok Srinakarin. I had a wonderful and rewarding time with you guys - God bless you all !

P.P. Matthias